I hesitated to make this my "vacation read" but since I didn't have anything else in hand that was speaking to me, I took it with me and started reading it on the flight to Louisville. I finished shortly after I got back - it's a big read. It's an excellent, informative, and extremely well-written account of cancer. The first accounts of cancer are so interesting and the early treatments horrifying. Some of the trials and the key characters in the advancement of research and treatment are very interesting.
The author, Siddhartha Mukherjee, is a skilled and compassionate story-teller, which makes this account of the history of cancer and the slow progress of research and treatment actually engrossing and compelling. It sounds as thought it might be a bit dry and technical and I probably wouldn't have tackled this book except that I'd read such positive reviews that emphasized how accessible and well-written the book is.
There were some areas that I got a lost in, such as the latest RNA and DNA research, but nonetheless, I learned a great deal and have already found what I learned helpful in better understanding the steady flow of cancer research that I regularly follow.
More significantly and unexpected for me was how I found myself relating the stories to people I know who have had to face cancer. It was interesting to understand the state of cancer research and treatment at different times. It broke my heart to read the 80's being referred to as "the dark days of chemotherapy". That's when Charles, a friend, had cancer treatments and died at age 23. I remember vividly. I don't know all the details about his cancer - we were very young and I knew nothing about cancer except to be terrified. To my mind Charles had stomach cancer and whether I'm right or not, I recall Charles as having problems with an ulcer in high school. In this book, the author talks about the discovery of H. pylori ... not discovered until after Charles had died ... that surprised the medical world by determining that most ulcers were caused by this bacteria making them treatable with the proper medication. Significantly to my connecting this with Charles is that H. pylori can be pre-cancerous. I didn't know that before reading this book. It makes me wonder if Charles had developed an ulcer AFTER the identification of H. pylori, might he have avoided cancer?
The book explained things that made me better understand the progress of the cancer that took the life of a friend's husband recently.
During the chapters on smoking and cancer, I thought of my Dad. I better understand the progress of his cancers ... the first one, a cancer of the esophagus and the second one, caused by the radiation he received for the first cancer. This, to me, is the kicker --- that cancer treatments can actually cause cancer. I thought of the many women I know and have known who have fought breast cancer and how treatments for our cancers have progressed and yet we're still not in the clear. I better appreciate how complex cancer is and how determined it is to survive at our cost. Cancer is pretty foxy and there will probably never be a magic bullet kind of cure for it because cancers are all remarkably different and still changing. I'm grateful that some of the women I know have had the benefit of Herceptin without which many women would not have survived. One of the happy stories in the book is about a woman who had given up - she was considered a lost cause even by her medical team - and had to be begged to join the drug trial for Herceptin. She is still alive today. There are other good stories in the book.
The book deepened my respect and compassion for oncologists and the difficult work of trying to save people from cancer ... the complexities in the effort to find just the right cocktails of poisons for a particular person and a particular cancer. It's not an exact science by any stretch.
While this isn't a book that would have been good for me to read at certain times over the past few years, it was good for me to read now. I better detach emotionally and I'm able to read research and honest information about cancer without getting too emotionally caught up in it with regard to myself. And I'm glad to better understand cancer in general.
I have to say, I shuddered sometimes when I read about cancer research and treatments in the past 20 years ... about recent discoveries that have impacted my own treatment. And I'm very sure that there will be changes to cancer treatment very soon that I will wish had been part of the knowledge base during my time of treatment.
If you're interested in knowing more about cancer and it's history told in a humane and accessible way, this is a good book to read. Amazon.com has several reviews of the book.
What I've Been Reading - The Emperor of All Maladies
Breast cancer motivated me to start a blog, mostly to keep track of everything for myself but also to allow family and friends to keep up to date about my progress. My blog has evolved and so have I.
Now, along with my continuous breast cancer experience, I also blog about my kitchen experiments, my return to quilting as therapy, and my return to full-time work.
I didn't realize when I was diagnosed that breast cancer and the treatments would take so much out of me and that the effects would be so difficult and last so long. That said, I'm glad to be alive and now I need to leave a legacy. Time's a wasting. Must make quilts.
Breast Cancer (booooo) was the opponent. I hope I won. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2009. I had a sentinel node lumpectomy later that month and on June 10, 2009, I started Chemotherapy followed by radiation treatments - the last one being December 20, 2009.
I thought it was all over. The cancer part seems to be over so far but I hadn't anticipated the awful effects of Arimidex (the aromatase inhibitor/estrogen blocker) that I started taking after chemo. The effects were long lasting and really awful. And then both my shoulders became frozen. I see that frozen shoulder is not uncommon for women who have been through breast cancer treatments but nobody seems to know why. And now I'm on Tamoxifen and there are the side effects from that, which are much milder than I had with Arimidex but at this point I don't know what's caused by either of those drugs or what might be the lingering effects of chemo and radiation. It's a much longer haul than I initially understood.
This blog has been my game's colour commentary starting 6 days before the kick-off of my first chemo treatment. I hope I won. That's the funny thing with cancer, though. You don't know for sure. You just have to be cocky enough to act like you've won.
Everyone who visits here has been on my team (because there's no "I" in "TEAM") and this blog was for them to to follow the game plan and the progress. It turned out it's also been therapy for me and a record of so many details I forget because of the also unanticipated "chemo brain". One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn't have made it through this without my team of family and friends. Thank you! Thank you! THANK YOU!! We're here. We Might Have WON!!
To learn the details about my particular discovery of my tumour and my diagnosis and treatment, please read this.
If you're more interested in my new quilting hobby, visit my blog that's supposed to be JUST about quilting at Peace.Love.Quilt.